As we gear up for our second trip to Jamaica, I want to write about some of the things I learned from our first trip there last August. Traveling internationally with kids is challenging. Traveling internationally with an infant and a toddler (plus two more) is REALLY challenging.
Passports. I wish I had taken pictures of us in the passport office. The day that we got our kids’ photos made and filled out their applications was quite entertaining. I think that Kevin and I made errors on nearly every application and had to redo them. This was while we were huddled into a too-small-room with kids crawling around our knees. Be prepared for this process to take about three times as long as you think that it should.
Packing. I knew that my older sons (7 and 10 at the time) would be pulling their own small suitcases through the airport while carrying backpacks. We needed to push a stroller with an infant while carrying a toddler in a body-type carrier. We needed to pull our own luggage while juggling six passports and boarding passes. Sound challenging? It was–especially at 5:30 AM. I had to think through all of these logistics–who was responsible for carrying what items. I felt like a military commander. This, I promise you, was the hardest part of the whole trip.
Resort choice. When I was researching family vacations with kids, I came across Franklyn D. Resort in Jamaica–also known as FDR. This tiny little heavenly spot was such a blessing for my family. They have vacation nannies! I will write more about FDR in a later post. I can hardly contain my love…but I will put this on hold for now!
Flying for families. Get your tickets way in advance. If you have a big family and everyone needs to sit together, you need to plan early. When my husband and I are flying somewhere alone, we tend to put off this step looking for the bargains. I don’t recommend this when flying with small children. You want to have the choice of the best flight times and best seating options for your family. It’s not fun to get stuck with three kids while your husband is twenty rows behind you with the remaining child. You need to be together to juggle potty breaks, diaper changes, and any meltdown that may occur. There are lots of wonderful blog posts about activities for travel with kids. Read them. I say this is a perfect time to haul out those screens (fully charged for this occasion). You don’t have to worry about them rolling around on the floor of the folks two rows behind you. Nursing (or a bottle) on take off helps with infants’ ears–it also helps to position Mama in a way that is most comfortable for this on a tight plane. I prefer to sit by the window, if I am planning on nursing, with a member of my family in the middle seat next to me. (I have breast-fed on a plane next to a stranger, but I was traveling alone with my baby and it was a very unusual circumstance. I don’t recommend this if you can help it! It was quite awkward. Thank goodness, I was next to a woman.)
Driving (or riding) in Jamaica. YIKES! This was a terrifying experience for me. I haven’t actually figured out how to make this easier (or safer) this time around. In Jamaica, the cars drive on the left and the driver sits on the right of the car. They honk for everything. Greetings. Warnings. The shuttle to/from the airport did not have seat belts. My infant was in a carrier, but not strapped into a seat. We found a driver that we liked while we were there, but his personal vehicle that he used for a taxi was not big enough for our whole family so we were not able to hire him to drive us back to the airport.
International checkpoint. I don’t remember any issue with this on the outbound trip. Inbound, however, it was a nightmare. After we got of the plane in Atlanta (exhausted from the 1 1/2 hour bus ride from the resort to the airport and the flight home) it took FOREVER to get to customs. I told Kevin several times that we must have done something wrong. I think we walked for 45 minutes with all the kids and our carry-on items to get to the customs area. When we got there, we were flagged. We couldn’t figure out why, but we were sent through the line for “problem people”. As it turned out, it had something to do with traveling with a lap baby. We had more people then tickets and it raised a red flag. We will be better prepared for this next time. It took us nearly three hours to get off our plane and get back to our car! This part was very stressful. I was thankful that Kevin and I both have very even personalities. It could have been a bad ending to a long day with a bunch of tired kids.
In spite of EVERYTHING, the trip was so very worth it. I can’t wait to return next week. We made friends with the employees at the resort. I have kept up with them on Facebook this year. I am so excited to see them again! By the end of our stay, they truly felt like extended family.